Peter the Punter on the betting for the next chancellor
Few political markets have offered punters more opportunities than that for the Next Chancellor. The key to it has been the regular price fluctuations. Most of the plausible candidates have varied enormously in price and if you bought high and sold low you may well have engineered an all green position already.
Unlike a lot of the markets we bet in, this one is sure to go to the wire. There is absolutely no advantage for Brown to reveal his hand before the appointed day.
The allocation of Cabinet posts is a difficult juggling act and it must be to his advantage to keep his options open as long as possible. He may not make his own mind up finally until close to the event which, if nothing else, makes it unlikely there will be informed leaks â€“ though uninformed ones will, as usual, be in plentiful supply.
The other striking feature of this market is that there are obvious objections to the three market leaders. Darling has the strongest claims but some think Brown is wary of having a Scottish duopoly at the head of the UK Government. I think thatâ€™s rubbish but I wonder if he might prefer another key position for one of his closest allies and safest pair of hands â€“ Foreign Office, Home Office or Defence.
Strawâ€™s prominence in the market seems to me attributable wholly to his role as Gordonâ€™s gopher in the Leadership non-contest. He has few qualifications for the job outside of seniority and gravitas. If he took it, surely he would need somebody like Balls in some sort of â€˜assistant-toâ€™ role. Itâ€™s plausible, but would you bet on it?
If Balls lands the post it would mark one of the fastest political promotions since Pitt the Younger and for that reason is extremely unlikely.
If not these three, then who? Although I generally avoid laying against the field, I can see why one might do so in this market, such is the plethora of possibilities. For those preferring to narrow their targets, here are some possibiles.
Stephen â€˜Too Tallâ€™ Timms â€“ Is marginally junior to Darling in Cabinet rank but otherwise has as many credentials and is a member of the current Treasury team. 30/1
David Miliband â€“ Heâ€™s got to have a senior post to appease his supporters. Why not the Chancellorship? 25/1
Peter Hain â€“ A good performance in the Deputy race following on from his NI success would make him a candidate. Experienced and a safe pair of hands, he cannot be ruled out. 60/1
Hilary Benn â€“ See Hain. 70/1
Ruth Kelly â€“ I can just see this efficient operator offloading on Osborne before â€˜opping off â€˜ome at five oâ€™clock, leaving Balls to deal with the paperwork. Worth considering at 50/1.
Alan Johnson â€“ A near miss in the Deputy Dog competition would make it hard for Brown not to give him a very senior post. Like Hain and Benn, a safe pair of hands and popular with the troops too. I canâ€™t believe heâ€™s still available at 60/1. Come on punters, this is Al Johnson weâ€™re talking about, not Al Jolson. Heâ€™s got to be worth a few quid.
Others? – Healey, Browne, Hutton, Alexander â€“ take your pick. Thereâ€™s plenty to choose from at juicy prices. They may not win but with the top three underpriced, there has to be value somewhere, even if only on a bet now lay later basis. The Chancellorship has thrown up surprises in the past. Kenneth Clarkeâ€™s formal qualifications for the job amounted, I believe, to an A Level in Economics and we wonâ€™t even go into Churchillâ€™s educational background.
Maybe the game is to â€˜green upâ€™ your position first and then take a pop at the long shots. Iâ€™m green already, so Iâ€™m going for Timms and Johnson.
Good luck, whatever you do.
(Peter the Punter)